How to address problems in spreadsheet development

Once limited to one basic set of functionalities, the spreadsheet has come a long way. However, designing and deploying more intuitive, nuanced and capable spreadsheets is not as simple as it might seem. In some ways, the problems arise from the traditional rigidity of these programs. Making changes is much more difficult if the technologies you are trying to change have a long, documented history of working in a certain way. There are many tasks that can be better accomplished and several processes that improve with spreadsheet reporting tools. Overcoming the obstacles of spreadsheet stasis and evolving past some of the pain points that can befall many programming operations is key to taking data assessment to the next level.

Data visualization: A promise, a curse
Data visualization is the number one function and top pain point-inducing aspect of spreadsheet development. It all comes down to how data is displayed, distributed and viewed - poor or confusing visuals will stop a data analysis or reporting effort squarely in its tracks. Many of the current difficulties in effective spreadsheet data visualizations arise from the number of devices, Web browsers and platforms on which they are expected to run, according to a recent Moki Mobility-produced infographic. Any spreadsheet or other reporting app must be able to run on multiple devices, operating systems and networks.

"From smartphones to tablets, your app can run on hundreds of hardware variations," Moki Mobility stated. "Accommodating these variations in hardware and OS can greatly extend the development and Q/A timeframes. App functionality will vary based on OS and hardware capabilities and app performance can vary wildly."

With spreadsheet use potentially spread among Android, Apple iOS, BlackBerry and others, any incompatibility will delay the full functionality of the program. End users may be prevented from utilizing the app to its full potential, which can have long-term, trickle-down effects on group data analysis, shared reporting and enterprise communication. Additionally, according to the source, end users are given apps and spreadsheets and expected to "run with them" more than ever before.

After the spreadsheet is deployed, developers and software professionals may have little opportunity to gain insight into the user experience. Confusion and ignorance can lead to underutilization of important features and restrict the nature and efficacy of insights. In any application that works principally with data, even the occasional blind spot or misunderstanding can have far-reaching consequences. A poorly executed comparison, misplaced decimal point or randomly selected data set can wreak havoc on a company's ability to deliver insights from databases.

The adaptation potential for spreadsheets
Contrary to traditional strictness imposed on data querying applications, they are full of potential. There are some real pain points on the road to agile, flexible data applications, such as those discussed above, but these programs are ultimately fertile for developing insight. InvestmentNews contributors Lowell Putnam and Niko Karvounis recently outlined some of the ways in which spreadsheet programming will have to change in order to facilitate "true big data horsepower."

One of the most important transformations is in structure. Traditional spreadsheet programs like Excel are two dimensional, a composition which limits comparison and forces users to conduct a high degree of their processing manually. Advanced spreadsheet development platforms such as Spread.NET offer integrated chart engines and data visualizations, which allow users to compare more variables in more dimensions. Additionally, integrated control functions allow for more complex processes to be conducted automatically, relieving end users of tedious operations and allowing them to devote more time to advanced insights.

The other advantages of using next-gen spreadsheet programming tools extend to development itself. With a vast library of components to choose from, coding elaborate applications with a variety of tools has never been easier.


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